Gloucester Cattle are more than just cows to Clifford Freeman, they represent both his heritage and his future.
It’s a breed that’s earned its place in history, providing the milk used to make the Double Gloucester cheese that was exported throughout the world and playing a role in the eradication of smallpox.
Yet back in the 1970s this distinctive animal, with its brown coat and white ‘finchback’ stripe, was on the verge of extinction, a casualty of the changing face of food production after the Second World War.
Clifford’s father Eric was among a small group of farmers who took on the last remaining Gloucesters and worked tirelessly to increase numbers of this dual-purpose animal, renowned for its milk and its beef.
Clifford has gone on to develop a herd of more than 300 Gloucester cattle, which spend their days grazing the rich pastures close to the River Leadon at Redmarley in Gloucestershire. He’s made it his life’s work to ensure the Gloucester breed continues to go from strength to strength so that they’re still around both for his children and generations to come.
Along with his Gloucesters, Clifford also has a flock of Ryeland Sheep, with 130 ewes producing around 170 lambs every year. The Ryeland is an ancient dual purpose sheep, producing quality wool and tasty meat on a diet of good grass alone. This hardy downland animal is thought to originate from Leominster in neighbouring Herefordshire, where monks raised them in rye growing areas. The Ryeland, said to be the oldest of the recognised British sheep breeds with a history going back more than 800 years, was classified as ‘rare’ up until few years ago. Nowadays there are sufficient numbers for them to be regarded as a ‘minority’ breed.
Completing the line up at Clifford Freeman’s farm is another heritage breed, the Gloucestershire Old Spots pig. These distinctive spotted animals come from the Berkeley Vale on the southern shores of the River Severn and were first recorded in 1913 – later than cattle and sheep largely due to their status as a ‘peasant’s’ animal.
Also known as the ‘Old Spot’ or ‘Orchard Pig’, they were traditionally kept on dairy farms and in cider and perry pear orchards, growing fat on discarded milk and fruit. Folklore links their spots to bruises created by falling apples and pears.
Clifford’s farm is managed in accordance with Higher Level Stewardship rules, which helps to maintain an integral part of the traditional English countryside as well as contributing towards fine meat products. Fields are small and contain native grasses and deep-rooted wild flowers that draw nutrients from the fertile soil, along with clovers that collect nitrogen from the air and fix it in the ground. Each field is surrounded by thick hedges that provide vital natural corridors for wildlife.